WARD-KOVALEV POST-MORTEM. The crowd at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, Nov. 19, was overwhelmingly in favor of Andre Ward. The judges were disinclined to rain on their parade and scored the bout with their ears. They each gave Ward seven rounds.
This was a good fight but not a great fight. It was marred by too much wrestling, albeit there were no takedowns. The controversial outcome insures that the rematch will be even bigger. Remember when Evander Holyfield was accorded a gift draw against Lennox Lewis (March 13, 1999 at Madison Square Garden)? There was a great hue and cry that boxing fans would toss in the towel in disgust, leaving the sport in droves, but they came back for the rematch which was an even bigger spectacle.
Holyfield and Lennox Lewis had no intervening fights before their second meeting. Andre Ward turns 33 in February and Sergey Kovalev will be 34 in March, so let’s hope that their rematch follows the same template. It would be a shame if one or both went in a different direction and the inevitable rematch marinated beyond the sell date.
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The odds factored largely into the pre-fight hype. This was ballyhooed as a “pick-em” fight. It is true that some very sharp people with deep pockets favored the Russian, but the late money was all Andre Ward who closed a 2/1 favorite at the host property, the MGM Grand. This grizzled reporter can recall only one big fight that was a true “pick-em” affair. That was the first encounter between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns (Sept. 16, 1981) where the odds in Las Vegas ping-ponged back-and-forth across 11/10 in the hours leading up to the fight.
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When it was announced that Claressa Shields would make her pro debut against Franchon Crews, the first thing that ran through this reporter’s mind was “gentleman’s agreement.” RocNation wasn’t about to let their prize acquisition come up short in her pro debut. The ladies were familiar with each other from their amateur days. They could easily simulate a genuine prizefight. The expectation was that Crews would retire on her stool claiming an injury, as so many U.S. fighters do when they travel overseas.
I apologize. Franchon Crews came to win. Claressa Shields evaded her haymakers and won every round, but this was no stroll in the park for the two-time Olympic gold medalist; she had to weather a storm.
Later in the evening, Claressa was one of the most animated persons in the audience, cheering lustily for Andre Ward.
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One of the ways to measure the magnitude of a fight is the number of celebrities in attendance. Michael Buffer’s roll call was brief, a reminder that the glory days of boxing in Las Vegas are in the rear-view mirror. However, there were more notables at this event than in each of the last three big fights in the city, two of which featured Manny Pacquiao. The loudest ovations were accorded comedian Dave Chappelle and Gennady Golovkin.
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The announced attendance was 13,310. Midway through the preliminaries, had one ventured a guess, the over/under would have been 5,000. Those great swaths of empty seats eventually disappeared.
As Thomas Hauser and other writers have noted, this is one of the major differences between boxing and MMA. Boxing fans arrive fashionably late. MMA fans get there early. But this reflects something more than just established custom. MMA events, in general, have stronger undercards and that factors into the disparity. The Ward-Kovalev undercard was uninspired, and that’s being diplomatic.
When Sugar Ray Leonard fought Donny Lalonde in 1988, the chief undercard match was a compelling bout between Vinny Pazienza and Roger Mayweather. The chief undercard bout on last night’s show — the one that went last in the spot reserved for a “co-feature” — pitted Darleys Perez against Maurice Hooker.
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